Lulu James: “I’m going to become the star I want to be”

Lulu James has a vision to “create 21st-century soul properly”. And what exactly is 21st-century soul, you might ask. “Well, it’s me . . . ”


When we saw you perform at the Other Voices event in Dingle last December, you delivered a mini-masterclass in how to jump from grazing at a pile of influences to nibbling at the corners of originality. In lesser hands, the performance could have looked like a car crash outside the X Factor factory, but you placed the fun back into funk and sealed the joins, didn’t you?
“I don’t think I need to do anything apart from what I’m already doing. It’s not in any way manufactured, it’s all very honest, and I reckon that I stand out, anyway. There are a few other female performers who stand out in their own way, but I think I’ll be in people’s minds for longer. The fact is that what I’m doing is organic, and that alone is worth it.”

Can we safely bet that you were one of those countless kids standing in front of the mirror with a hairbrush in your hand, aching to be a pop star?
“Some people just want to be singers, but I have always wanted to be just as involved in the creative side of things. Creating the work that you perform is what it’s all about for me, and it was from the age of 19 that I started to think more seriously about expressing my feelings. To me, that’s quite a difference than wanting to be a pop star.”

Which is the difference between X Factor contenders and people who regard themselves as artists, isn’t it?
“Absolutely, and that’s why it takes much more hard work. I’m not dissing that show at all, but it takes a lot more grit to get through. I didn’t take the X Factor route because I’ve never really believed in it. Sometimes it can be a bit phoney, but the show does what it sets out to do very well. It’s a tough cycle for people go into and for most of them to get their dreams well and truly crushed. And only one person wins! Creativity isn’t about that.”

One of your best friends is 2009 X Factor winner Joe McElderry. Did he give you any advice? We’d hazard a guess that it was something like ‘don’t stop believing’.
“Very funny. Belief in yourself and in what you’re doing is actually quite difficult for an emerging performer, because you get so much different advice from so many different people. I’m sure there are so many people in the industry who experience that, and it gets to the point where you follow advice that you really shouldn’t follow. I think as long as you believe in yourself, and go with what you really believe are the right decisions, then you’ll be fine. Ultimately, you need people around you who will facilitate your vision.”

And who will also facilitate your trust, your instincts . . .
“As long as I can see that they believe in me, then I will give them that trust. But if they don’t facilitate what they say they were going to, then that trust will be immediately removed. No second chances – it’s my life, my career, and I need to be serious about it.”

You have a vision for what you’re going to do, haven’t you?
“Dead right I have. And I need to hone it, define it, pay attention to it, make sure the details of it are perfect. That said, it isn’t easy to execute that definition, which, if I’m honest, is in itself loose enough.”

Hence the time it’s taking to get your debut album on the right side of perfect.
“The vision, I suppose, is to create 21st-century soul properly. And what exactly is 21st-century soul? Well, it’s me, and me being able to complement different genres with my voice, and putting it all together. But it also needs to make sense. It needs to sound like a specific sound, and that’s difficult when you’re working with different producers. Otherwise you’ve got a messy album.”

True, but the fact that the album has been delayed more than once under-
mines the level of heightened expectations
. Is that difficult to handle?
“Well, it’s all about being rushed – or not being rushed. My first album has to be perfect, and if I have to keep saying that for people to believe it, then fine. As far as I’m concerned, you can be thrown out there too fast and people miss it.”

You’re influenced and inspired by musicians who are individualistic, odd and brilliant. Is that what you’re aiming for – that truly special blend of genius, maverick and idiosyncrasy?
“Yes, and I think I’m on that road. I also believe in myself enough to know that I’m going to become the star I want to be, and to produce the music I want to produce. I mean, I’m reaching for the stars. I want to be as big a star as Prince. Or bigger. Ambitious? Why ever not?”

Tanzania-born, UK-based Lulu James will feature on RTÉ2’s Other Voices, May 4th at 10.30pm. Her as-yet untitled debut album will be released in the summer